Access to Information in Marginalised Communities elusive Despite looming digital Migration
By Yvonne Mwende
Kenya a member state of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is required to have migrated from analogue to digital terrestial Television broadcasting technologies by 17th June 2015, owing to the multilateral decision of the Regional Radio Conference of 2006 in Geneva, Switzerland. Hence, the Government of Kenya has therefore put in place mechanisms and structures to facilitate the migration and provide effective strategies of streamlining access to information to marginalized groups in view of the global changes.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010, is a positive development that ensures the free flow of information as it provides for several freedoms enshrined in Article 33, 34 and 35. However, there is a major contradiction on the sharing of information across the board. Whilst those in the urban areas enjoy having an overload of information, those in the remote areas have the disadvantage of receiving less or no information at all. it is imperative to note that marginalised communities have missed out, more so in the recent past on the freedoms of information that is their right based on the Constitution of Kenya.
Marginialised communities have social, economic, political and cultural values that are ‘unique’ to them; the focus is more on their basic needs as opposed to other factors that come in to play. Over 80% of the population in Marsabit is estimated to be living on less than a dollar a day, while 76.9 of the total population in Tana river lives below the poverty line. Factors like poverty, drought, low literacy levels, conflict, unemployment, lack of infrastructure are key contributors to the lack of access to information. Hence, even Mobile Service Providers look in to such factors before determining whether putting up infrastructure in those areas will be good business or not.
The move from analogue to digital broadcasting has its perks. Consumers in Kenya will enjoy improved reception quality, opening up of broadcast space which will encourage entrepreneurial activity, free spectral spaces which will lead to additional programme channels- hence diversity. Viewers will also have a platform through which their own stories will be highlighted, through local content development which will be a core part of the migration strategy.
This outlook on the digital migration prompted the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) in partnership with Ford Foundation Eastern Africa to put up an avenue to discuss the opportunities and challenges for marginalized communities. Representatives from the communities where AMWIK works were present to discuss with the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology, Dr. Fred Matiangi.
Issa Kofa Umuru, a coordinator from Garsen, Tana river County talked of the problems in accessing information in his County. “Our network reception is very poor, especially when one moves further away to the remote areas”. Mobile phone, radio and television reception is not clear in most remote areas in Kenya. “We do not know what people mean when they say they have read the daily newspaper. We get our newspaper after two days when everyone else has read the paper; this is merely because of our poor roads and infrastructure. We have been marginalized even in receiving information! He further went on to say that they had no idea that South Sudan were at war until after almost three months in to the war.
His sentiments were echoed by Zainab Nura Gobana of Moyale, Marsarbit County who also spoke of the challenges they undergo. “We are talking about digital migration today, while we have more pressing challenges in my county. For instance, women in my county have to travel long distances even up to Ethiopia to access clean water”. With such challenges it is difficult for such communities to look beyond their daily needs and focus on the looming digital phenomena. “How will this digital migration help me and my community, while I did not even benefit on the previous analogue technology?” she poses.
The Cabinet Secretary urged AMWIK to utilize and benchmark some of the opportunities that will be available with the digital migration. “Since local content is core to the strategy for migration to digital TV, I would like to urge AMWIK and similar organisations to put in place mechanisms that build the capacity of women and other marginalized communities to take charge of their own destiny by developing local content that can be aired on the digital platform”. He went a step further and stated that he would like to establish a partnership with AMWIK and that his office was open to support in any way possible.
As much as the Government of Kenya is taking elaborate steps to ensure that they comply with the digital migration deadline, it is paramount to note that marginalized communities have missed out at most times in tapping such opportunities. As we also focus on the Post 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) it is important to reflect on our current situations and implement strategies that will enable our country to forge forwards as one without discrimination.